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CAN IT! Reducing Food Waste with Steel Food Containers

August 6, 2013

Today’s guest Blog is by Casey Fenton, Communications Assistant, for the Steel Recycling Institute.

When people buy a product, they expect to be able to utilize that product to its fullest value and capacity. Anything less would be, to put it simply, wasted. Purchasing food is often a juggling act of buying enough nutritious options in the short term to feed your family but not so much that it begins to spoil. Food packaged in steel cans continues to be an American favorite, with over 100 million steel food cans used a day, and one of the primary reasons is their long shelf life. The canning process locks in nutrients at their peak of freshness, and canned foods are ready to eat when you are.

By nature, different types of foods and packaging materials have varying windows of opportunity to being consumed. Some food, such as fresh fruit, have a very small window between ripening and going bad. And when you factor in the time it takes to travel from the field to the supermarket, then to your table, the window shortens. According to research from the Produce for Better Health Foundation, two-thirds of people end up throwing out fresh fruit on occasion and 80 percent throw out fresh vegetables some of the time. If these same people consider a variety of canned, fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, not only would a dollar go further, but the window of opportunity to successfully consume the recent purchases broadens.

A report from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers found that between 1.2 – 2 billion tons of all food produced in the world annually ends up as waste. The U.S. Department of Agriculture states that Americans waste about 25 percent of fresh produce they purchase each year. Not only is this an incredible loss of nutrient-rich food but it is an enormous loss of revenue for households when they aren’t able to use the products they purchase.

The whole point of buying food is to get nutrition – but food is not nutritious until it is consumed. All the fresh foods in the world can be bought, but if it goes bad in the fridge or on the counter top it’s not doing anyone any good. Steel canned food have comparable nutrients to fresh and frozen but they also provide a longer opportunity to consume those nutrients thanks to their packaging.

CANSlogoV2013finalFood packed in steel cans has a worldwide reputation of longevity and secure packaging. In humanitarian aid efforts, canned food is the preferred method of food collection based upon its ease of transport and safety from contamination in potentially unstable conditions. Since canned foods can also be stored at room temperature, large scale efforts or food services programs can avoid the cost, and conserve the energy, of requiring additional crucial cold storage.

An often overlooked aspect of preventing food waste is portion sizes. Many recipes are written based upon a smaller portion size that a steel can will meet. Some fresh and frozen alternatives may only be purchased in larger quantities, such as by the pound, which forces the consumer to repackage extra product on their own. The product is now increasingly more vulnerable to spoilage.

Avoiding the waste of food is far from the only reason to choose steel cans. A study in the Journal of Nutrition and Food Sciences compared packaging materials across price, waste and preparation and it showed that canned foods offered just as many nutrients at a comparable and often lower cost. This only further emphasizes the cost savings brought on by causing less food waste.

Canned fruits, vegetables and beans are always in season. With more than 125 varieties of fruits and vegetables, fresh forms can only offer some types seasonally, while canned foods provide the same consistent quality and nutrition all year long. Quality of life also improves with a more varied diet.

In addition to their budgetary and nutritional value, steel food cans benefit consumers through their inherent recyclability at end of use. Steel prides itself on being North America’s #1 most recycled material. With an annual recycling rate of 72 percent, households should know that recycling their steel can through their community curbside or drop-off program will conserve energy, save natural resources and keep valuable material out of the nation’s diminishing landfill space. This commitment to minimizing material waste through recycling mirrors the industry’s drive to not wanting the actual food product to be lost either.

Steel food cans offer benefits throughout their entire life cycle. Steel cans always are made from a minimum of 25% recycled content, they lock in essential nutrients, and save families money at each checkout. Every time a household chooses a steel can in the aisle, energy is conserved, money is saved and potential food waste is avoided. Anyone who says any different should ‘can it’!



For more information about the Steel Recycling Institute or to find the nearest recycling programs to recycle your steel products, please visit

Photos courtesy of the Canned Food Alliance (CFA).

Guest Blogs represent the opinion of the writer and may not reflect the policy or position of the Northeast Recycling Council, Inc.

Comments (1)

  1. Dianne Griffen:
    Jun 28, 2017 at 06:10 AM

    Quick advice : Buy funny-looking produce. Many fruits and vegetables are thrown away because their size, shape, or colors don’t quite match what we think these items “should” look like. But for the most part these items are perfectly good to eat, and buying them at a farmer’s market or the grocery store helps use up food that might otherwise be tossed

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